Religious Freedom Law in Mississippi: Newspapers Struggle to Clarify Basic Issues

Barb Wire

Of all the stories I’ve seen on Mississippi’s new religious freedom law, the one in the Jackson Free Press is one of the few that remembers what the debate is really about: the First Amendment. Specifically, the Establishment Clause versus the Free Exercise Clause.

Not that the newspaper delivers totally on its promise to cover all bases. It stumbles and wanders and omits in places. Here are the first two paragraphs:

JACKSON — “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….” How those words affect the language in House Bill 1523 could lead to a historic Establishment Clause ruling this week when U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves decides whether or not to issue a preliminary injunction to keep HB 1523 from becoming law on July 1.

Pastors, priests, advocates and other Mississippians named as plaintiffs in two lawsuits that challenge the constitutionality of the bill claim that it advances a certain religious view, discriminates by favoring three particular beliefs and favors religion over non-religion, specifically targeting LGBT citizens.

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It’s a tantalizing start for anyone who still cares about religious rights, and how far the law should protect them.

In a time when people can be fined and shamed for not photographing a wedding or not decorating a cake for one, legal matters can take a painfully personal tinge. And several states, from Florida to Indiana, have passed various versions of the 1993 federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act to cope.

As the Free Press points out, HB 1523 brings in New York-based attorney Roberta Kaplan, who helped bring down Mississippi’s law on same-sex marriage. The two argue that the pending state law “favors three particular religious beliefs over others.” Those beliefs are that “marriage should be recognized between one man and one woman, sexual relations are reserved to that marriage and that gender is assigned…

Read full article at GetReligion.org

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.

Jim Davis
Jim Davis writes for GetReligion.org, scrutinizing religion coverage in mainstream media. He also runs the Faith and Values page on Facebook, and freelances as a writer and photographer with The Florida Catholic newspaper. He worked for more than three decades as the religion editor of the South Florida Sun Sentinel, covering national as well as local events and issues. His other projects have included copy editing and writing for a Christian web designer, editing educational white papers for the University of Florida, and publicizing Jewish studies at Florida International University.

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